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Heaven is a reality, not seen by eyes of flesh, but made known by revelation, and received by faith.
Heaven is a rest from toil, trouble, temptation, and sin. Such a rest is very desirable, if it were only a sweet sleep; but heaven is more.
It is a state of delightful activity. Every faculty and every affection will find appropriate exercise; and probably latent powers, not needed here, will there be waked into activity powers suited to the new condition in which the soul exists.
Heaven is full of light; all darkness and doubt are absent. Knowledge will there be clear, and will possess a transforming efficacy; still, knowledge in heaven will be progressive; the pleasure will partly consist in ever learning something unknown before.
Heaven is a region of perfect love; all the heart and mind and strength will be exerted in love. And if the power of loving should, in the progress of the immortal soul, be increased a thousand-fold, all this increased ability will be kept constantly in full stretch by the loveliness and glory of the objects of affection.
Christ is the center of attraction in heaven. From him radiate the rays of divine glory which enliven, attract, and beautify all the innumerable army of worshipers.
Love in heaven is pure, perfect, and reciprocal. He who loves, cannot be satisfied without a return of affection. And the more exalted and excellent the character of the person beloved, the sweeter the sense of his favor. Heavenly joy consists in loving with all the heart, and in being beloved.
As heaven is a society, the members are happy not only in loving their King, but in mutual love. There will exist no envy, nor jealousy, nor apathy. Every soul will be transparent to every other, and all will see that nothing but pure love exists in every heart.
Heaven is a place of peace sweet peace and uninterrupted harmony; all disturbing elements will be left behind. In the symbolical heavens of the Revelation, we read of wars; but in the heaven where saints and angels dwell and worship, war can have no place. The atmosphere of heaven is exempt from all evil; it is purity itself; all sin and impurity are denied admission into that holy place.
Heaven is a place of song: high affections are expressed in celestial music. O how elevating, how delightful the melodies!
Heaven is an unchanging state. All change is advancement in knowledge, in dignity, in happiness!
— Archibald Alexander
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Argument to Prayer for the Spirit
"If ye then; being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" Luke 11:13
JESUS DESIRES all His disciples to pray for the Holy Spirit. He knows that we cannot believe at the first, nor continue believing without this precious gift. He knows that our soul cannot live, love, resist the devil, mortify the deeds of the body, nor overcome the world, without this living water; therefore does He urge His people to ask, seek, and knock. He is still saying to poor sinners, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water" (John 4: 10).
1. Earthly fathers, who are evil, give good gifts to their children. This is a fact in human nature. The most wicked fathers are often kind to their offspring. In some countries it is true, Satan has shown his infernal power in destroying the parental affections, so that the Hindoo mother has been known to plunge her sickly infant into the Ganges, or even to hurry it, while yet alive, into a grave dug with her own hands, and to trample the ground over it with her own feet. "The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty." In general, however, there is, even in the bosom of savage men, a chord of tenderest love toward their little ones. The wild Indian of America will bring home from the woods the most brilliant feather to deck the brow of his prattling boy; and the rude Greenlander will brave the icy blast to provide a scanty meal for his tender children. You must break a father's heart in pieces, before you can break asunder that mysterious bond of love that binds him to his child. Earthly fathers who are evil give good gifts to their children.
2. How much more shall God, who is a good Father, give the Holy Spirit. God excels an earthly father in two respects:
(i) He is wise, "the only wise God". Earthly fathers are short-sighted men. They do not know the wants of their children, nor do they know the best time and way of supplying these wants. They often give to their children when they should withhold, they pamper their humours, and spoil their dispositions; they often withhold when they should give, and provoke their children to fretfulness. But God is a wise Father. "The Father of spirits" knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust. He knows our minutest wants, and He knows the very best time and way of supplying them. Above all, He knows our need of the Holy Spirit. He knows that we are naturally dead in trespasses and sins. He knows that a vail is over our hearts - He knows that our faith is weak - and that our enemies are too many for us, and too strong. He knows the temptations and afflictions to which we are called. He knows the manner and measure of the Spirit's help – which we need to keep us from falling.
(ii) God is love. God has a natural love to a soul in Christ. Earthly fathers love their children, but O how coldly compared with God's love. In Isaiah 49:15 it is preferred above a mother's love: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." There is no love in this world like a mother's love. It is a free, unbought, unselfish love. She cannot account for it. You cannot change it. You must break to pieces the mother's heart before you will change it. It is the fullest love with which a creature can love. She loves with all her heart. But the love of God to a soul in Christ is far above a mother's love. It is a love ingrained in His nature, and God must change before His love can change. It is a full love. The whole heart of the Father is as it were continually showered down in love upon the Lord Jesus. And when a sinner comes into Christ the same love rests upon that soul (see John 17:26).
When the sun showers down its beams on the wide ocean, and on a little flower at the same time, it is the same sunshine that is poured into both, though the ocean has vastly larger capacity to receive its glorious beams. So when the Son of God receives the love of His Father, and a poor guilty worm hides in Him, it is the same love that comes both on the Saviour and the sinner, though Jesus is able to receive infinitely more. In Psalm 103:13, God's love is compared to a father's love: "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." His love combines all the tenderness of a mother's, and all the wisdom of a father's love. How surely then will He give the Holy Spirit to every one of His children that ask Him. Far more surely than an earthly father gives bread to his hungry children. This is good news for my weary soul. I am like David in the wilderness (Psalm 63 title), "My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is". "My soul followeth hard after thee; thy right hand upholdeth me." All my grace comes from thee. Thou didst begin the good work in me when I was an enemy, wilt thou not carry it on, now that I am a child? Thou didst pour down the Spirit when I was like the dry ground, wilt thou not water me every moment now that I am a plant though a feeble one, of thine own planting? Hear the divine answer, O my soul, and be still! "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel" (Hosea 14:4-5).
— Robert Murray M'Cheyne
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Zion's Joy and God's
"Sing, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, 0 daughter of Jerusalem.... He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing." Zephaniah 3:14, 17
What a wonderful rush of exuberant gladness there is in these words! The swift, short clauses, the triple invocation in the former verse, the triple promise in the latter, the heaped together synonyms, all help the impression. The very words seem to dance with joy. But more remarkable than this is the parallelism between the two verses. Zion is called to rejoice in God because God rejoices in her. She is to shout for joy and sing because God's joy too has a voice and breaks out into singing. For every throb of joy in man's heart, there is a wave of gladness in God's. The notes of our praise are at once the echoes and the occasions of His. We are to be glad because He is glad: He is glad because we are so. We sing for joy, and He joys over us with singing because we do.
God's joy over Zion.
It is to be noticed that the former verse of our text is followed by the assurance: "The Lord is in the midst of thee;" and that the latter verse is preceded by the same assurance. So, then, intimate fellowship and communion between God and Israel lies at the root both of God's joy in man and man's joy in God.
We are solemnly warned by "profound thinkers" of letting the shadow of our emotions fall upon God. No doubt there is a real danger there; but there is a worse danger, that of conceiving of a God who has no life and heart; and it is better to hold fast by this - that in Him is that which corresponds to what in us is gladness. We are often told, too, that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is a stem and repellent God, and the religion of the Old Testament is gloomy and servile. But such a misconception is hard to maintain in the face of such words as these. Zephaniah, of whom we know little, and whose words are mainly forecasts of judgments and woes pronounced against Zion that was rebellious and polluted, ends his prophecy with these companion pictures, like a gleam of sunshine which often streams out at the close of a dark winter's day. To him the judgments which he prophesied were no contradiction of the love and gladness of God. The thought of a glad God might be a very awful thought; such an insight as this prophet had gives a blessed meaning to it. We may think of the joy that belongs to the divine nature as coming from the completeness of His being, which is raised far above all that makes of sorrow. But it is not in Himself alone that He is glad; but it is because He loves. The exercise of love is ever blessedness. His joy is in self-impartation; His delights are in the sons of men: "As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee." His gladness is in His children when they let Him love them and do not throw back His love on itself. As in man's physical frame it is pain to have secretions dammed up, so when God's love is forced back upon itself and prevented from flowing out in blessing, some shadow of suffering cannot but pass across that calm sky. He is glad when His face is mirrored in ours, and the rays from Him are reflected from us.
But there is another wonderfully bold and beautiful thought in this representation of the gladness of God. Note the double form which it assumes: "He will rest" literally, be silent in His love; "He will joy over thee with singing." As to the former, loving hearts on earth know that the deepest love knows no utterance and can find none. A heart full of love rests as having attained its desire and accomplished its purpose. It keeps a perpetual Sabbath and is content to be silent. But side by side with this picture of the repose of God's joy is set with great poetic insight the precisely opposite image of a love which delights in expression and rejoices over its object with singing. The combination of the two helps to express the depth and intensity of the one love, which like a song-bird rises with quivering delight and pours out as it rises an ever louder and more joyous note, and then drops, composed and still, to its nest upon the dewy ground.
Zion's joy in God.
To the Prophet, the fact that "the Lord is in the midst of thee" was the guarantee for the confident assurance "Thou shalt not fear any more;" and this assurance was to be the occasion of exuberant gladness, which ripples over in the very words of our first text. That great thought of "God dwelling in the midst" is rightly a pain and a terror to rebellious wills and alienated hearts. It needs some preparation of mind and spirit to be glad because God is near; and they who find their satisfaction in earthly sources, and those who seek for it in these, see no word of good news, but rather a "fearful looking for of judgment" in the thought that God is in their midst. The word rendered "rejoices" in the first verse of our text is not the same as that so translated in the second. The latter means literally, to move in a circle; while the former literally means, to leap for joy. Thus the gladness of God is thought of as expressing itself in dignified, calm movements, whilst Zion's joy is likened in its expression to the more violent movements of the dance. True human joy is like God's, in that He delights in us and we in Him, and in that both He and we delight in the exercise of love. But we are never to forget that the differences are real as the resemblances, and that it is reserved for the higher form of our experiences in a future life to "enter into the joy of the Lord."
It becomes us to see to it that our religion is a religion of joy. Our text is an authoritative command as well as a joyful exhortation, and we do not fairly represent the facts of Christian faith if we do not "rejoice in the Lord always." In all the sadness and troubles which necessarily accompany us, as they do all men, we ought by the effort of faith to set the Lord always before us that we be not moved. The secret of stable and perpetual joy still lies where Zephaniah found it in the assurance that the Lord is with us, and in the vision of His love resting upon us, and rejoicing over us with singing. If thus our love clasps His, and His joy finds its way into our hearts, it will remain with us that our "joy may be full;" and being guarded by Him whilst still there is fear of stumbling, He will set us at last "before the presence of His glory without blemish in exceeding joy."
— Alexander Maclaren
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Hearing But Not Obeying
It has been the unanimous testimony of the greatest Christian souls that the nearer they drew to God the more acute became their consciousness of sin and their sense of personal unworthiness. The purest souls never knew how pure they were and the greatest saints never guessed that they were great. The very thought that they were good or great would have been rejected by them as a temptation of the devil.
They were so engrossed with gazing upon the face of God that they spent scarce a moment looking at themselves. They were suspended in that sweet paradox of spiritual awareness where they knew that they were clean through the blood of the Lamb and yet felt that they deserved only death and hell as their just reward. This feeling is strong in the writings of Paul and is found also in almost all devotional books and among the greatest and most loved hymns.
The quality of evangelical Christianity must be greatly improved if the present unusual interest in religion is not to leave the church worse off than she was before the phenomenon emerged. If we listen I believe we will hear the Lord say to us what He once said to Joshua,
"Arise, go over this Jordan, thou and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel" (Joshua 1:2). Or we will hear the writer to the Hebrews say, "Therefore, leaving the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection"(Hebrews 6:1a). And surely we will hear Paul exhort us to "be filled with the Spirit"(Ephesians 5:18).
If we are alert enough to hear God's voice we must not content ourselves with merely "believing" it. How can any man believe a command? Commands are to be obeyed, and until we have obeyed them we have done exactly nothing at all about them. And to have heard them and not obeyed them is infinitely worse than never to have heard them at all, especially in the light of Christ's soon return and the judgment to come.
— A. W. Tozer
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It is hardly a matter of wonder that the country that gave the world instant tea and instant coffee should be the one to give it instant Christianity. If these two beverages were not actually invented in the United States it was certainly here that they received the advertising impetus that has made them known to most of the civilized world. And it cannot be denied that it was American Fundamentalism that brought instant Christianity to the gospel churches.
Ignoring for the moment Romanism, and Liberalism in its in its various disguises, and focusing our attention upon the great body of evangelical believers, we see at once how deeply the religion of Christ suffered in the house of its friends. The American genius for getting things done quickly and easily with little concern for quality or permanence has bred a virus that has infected the whole evangelical church in the United States and, through our literature, our evangelists and our missionaries, has spread all over the world.
Instant Christianity came in with the machine age. Men invented machines for two purposes. They wanted to get important work done more quickly and easily than they could do it by hand, and they wanted to get the work over with so they could give their time to other pursuits more to their liking, such as loafing or enjoying the pleasures of this world. Instant Christianity now serves the same purposes in religion. It disposes of the past, guarantees the future and sets the Christian free to follow the more refined lusts of the flesh in all good conscience and with a minimum of restraint.
By "instant Christianity" I mean the kind found almost everywhere in gospel circles and which is born of the notion that we may discharge our total obligation to our own souls by one act of faith, or at most by two, and be relieved thereafter of all anxiety about our spiritual condition. We are saints by calling, our teachers keep telling us, and we are permitted to infer from this that there is no reason to seek to be saints by character. An automatic, once-for-all quality is present that is completely out of more with the faith of the New Testament.
In this error, as in most others, there lies a certain amount of truth imperfectly understood. It is true that conversion to Christ may be and often is sudden. Where the burden of sin has been heavy, the sense of forgiveness is usually clear and joyful. The delight experienced in forgiveness is equal to the degree of moral repugnance felt in repentance. The true Christian has met God. He knows he has eternal life and he is likely to know where and when he received it.
But the trouble is that we tend to put our trust in our experiences and as a consequence misread the entire New Testament. We are constantly exhorted to make the decision, to settle the matter now, to get the whole thing taken care of at once - and those who exhort us are right in doing so. There are decisions that can be and should be made once for all. There are personal matters that can be settled instantaneously by a determined act of the will in response to Bible-grounded faith.
Instant Christianity tends to make the faith act the terminal (end) and so smother the desire for spiritual advance. It fails to understand the true nature of the Christian life, which is not static but dynamic and expanding.
By trying to pack all of salvation into one experience, or two, the advocates of instant Christianity flaunt the law of development which runs through all nature. They ignore the sanctifying effects of suffering, cross carrying, and practical obedience. They pass by the need for spiritual training, the necessity of forming right religious habits and the need to wrestle against the world, the devil and the flesh.
— A. W. Tozer
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Consider Jesus? In His Atoning Blood
"The blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from every sin." 1 John 1:7
The blood of Jesus is everything. It is the central doctrine of our faith, the present and eternal life of our souls. There is no pardon, no salvation, no heaven but by blood--the blood of the Lord Jesus. Were we to relinquish every other revealed truth, and concentrate upon this one our supreme and lasting study, resolving all our knowledge of the Bible into an 'experimental and personal acquaintance' with ATONING BLOOD--as, like a purple thread, it runs from Genesis to Revelation, it would not be a too exaggerated view of this vital and momentous subject.
The blood is everything to us--it is everything to God. He provided it, is satisfied with it, beholds it, and when He sees it on the soul, that soul becomes a living and a lovely soul in His sight. May our meditation on atoning blood exalt our views of its dignity, increase in us its power, and endear to our hearts the preciousness of Him who shed it!
The blood of Jesus is DIVINE. It is the blood of God's Son, the God-man Christ Jesus. In this consists its sovereign virtue. The Divine nature of Christ rendered His obedience and death an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savor.
The blood of Jesus is ATONING. It was shed for sin, it has made to Divine justice a full satisfaction for sin, it puts away sin. Is sin your burden, O my soul? Is it for your sins you do moan and weep, and are cast down? Behold, the sin-atoning blood of Jesus; believe, and weep no more. Here is that before which not a sin can stand.
The blood of Jesus is CLEANSING. It "cleanses us." Oh, this is what you do so deeply need, my soul! Sin-forgiving, guilt-removing, heart-cleansing, conscience-purifying blood. All this is the blood of Jesus to you. Wash in it, and you shall be whiter than snow. "He that is washed is clean, every whit." And mark the tense of the wonderful words on which this meditation is based--it is the present tense. The blood "cleanses." It has cleansed, it will cleanse, but, as touching our daily walk as believers in Jesus, we have to do with its present cleansing. In our Christian travel through a sinful world the feet are apt to slide, prone to wander, and are constantly contracting fresh defilement, needing the daily washing in the blood. What a sweet thought, O my soul! that the fountain is open, and the blood cleanses, even now cleanses us, from all sin.
The blood of Jesus SPEAKS. "The blood of Christ that speaks." Oh, what a voice has the blood of Jesus! What sweetness and majesty, what gentleness and power! It speaks, and the troubled conscience is at rest; it speaks, and the broken heart is healed; it speaks, and the tormenting doubt is hushed; it speaks, and the trembling fear is quelled. It speaks, also, within the veil. The voice of Jesus' blood is heard in glory, sweeter and louder than the voices of all the minstrels round about the throne. My soul, the voice of Jesus' blood pleads louder for you in heaven, than all your sins can plead against you on earth.
It is sprinkled blood--that is, APPLIED blood. Therefore it is called, "the blood of sprinkling." The blood of Jesus practically will not avail us unless applied to the conscience, just as the blood of the Paschal lamb had availed nothing to the Israelite, when the first-born of Egypt was slain, had it not been sprinkled upon his house. And so God said, "When I SEE the BLOOD, I will pass over you." O my soul! look well to this. Why is it that you are so doubting and fearful? Why are you not walking in a full sense of your pardon and acceptance in JESUS-basking in the sunshine of a present and assured salvation? Is it not because you are stopping short of the applied blood? Oh, come to the blood, the blood of sprinkling! Keep no guilt upon your conscience, no anguish for uncleansed sin in your heart; but wash daily in the precious blood of Christ, which cleanses from ALL sin.
— Octavius Winslow
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Awake Thou that Sleepest
Arouse from a state of slumber and false security. "Sleep and death" are striking representations of the state in which people are by nature. In "sleep" we are, though living, insensible to any danger that may be near; we are unconscious of what may he going on around us; we hear not the voice of our friends; we see not the beauty of the grove or the landscape; we are forgetful of our real character and condition. So With the sinner. It is as if his faculties were locked in a deep slumber. He hears not when God calls; he has no sense of danger; he is insensible to the beauties and glories of the heavenly world; he is forgetful of his true character and condition. To see all this, he must be first awakened; and hence this solemn command is addressed to man. He must rouse from this condition, or he cannot be saved. But can he awaken himself? Is it not the work of God to awaken a sinner? Can he rouse himself to a sense of his condition and danger? How do we do in other things? The man that is sleeping on the verge of a dangerous precipice we would approach, and say, "Awake, you are in danger." The child that is sleeping quietly in its bed, while the flames are bursting into the room, we would rouse, and say, "Awake, or you will perish." Why not use the same language to the sinner slumbering on the verge of ruin, in a deep sleep, while the flames of wrath are kindling around him? We have no difficulty in calling on sleepers elsewhere to awake when in danger; how can we have any difficulty when speaking to the sinner?
The state of the sinner, is often compared to death; see the notes on Eph_2:1. People are by nature dead in sins; yet they must rouse from this condition, or they will perish. How singular, it may be said, to call upon the dead to rise! How could they raise themselves up? Yet God speak thus to people, and commands them to rise from the death of sin. Therefore, learn:
(1) That people are not dead in sin in any such sense that they are not moral agents, or responsible.
(2) That they are not dead in any such sense that they have no power of any kind.
(3) That it is right to call on sinners to arouse from their condition, and live.
(4) That they must put forth their efforts as if they were to "begin" the work themselves, without waiting for God to do it for them. "They" are to awake; "they" are to arise. It is not God who is to awake; it is not Christ who is to arise. It is the sinner who is to awake from his slumber, and arise from the state of death nor is he to wait for God to do the work for him.
Christ is the light of the world. The idea here is, that it they will use all the powers with which God has endowed them, and arouse from their spiritual slumber, and make an appropriate effort for salvation, then they may expect that Christ will shine upon them, and bless them in their efforts. This is just the promise that we need, and it is all that we need. All that man can ask is, that if he will make efforts to be saved, God will bless those efforts, so that they shall not be in vain. Faculties of mind have been given us to be employed in securing our salvation; and if we will employ them as they were intended to be employed, we may look for the divine aid; if not, we cannot expect it. "God helps those who help themselves;" and they who will make no effort for their salvation must perish as they wire will make no effort to provide food must starve. This command was indeed addressed at first to Christians; but it involves a principle which is applicable to all. Indeed, the "language" here is rather descriptive of the condition of impenitent sinners, than of Christians. In a far more important sense they are "asleep," and are "dead;" and with the more earnestness, therefore, should they be entreated to awake, and to rise from the dead, that Christ may give them light.
— From Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible
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"Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist,
and into them God enters suffering inorder that they might have existence."